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DATE: March 9, 2005
'Slow Food' movement helps develop social and cultural capital, according to UM-Dearborn economist
DEARBORN---Cooking from scratch with local ingredients might not only
be a way to eat better. It could also be a way to build a social and political
movement that is capable of resisting the dehumanizing effects of large-scale,
commercial food production and the fast-food industry, according to Bruce
Pietrykowski, associate professor of economics at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
Pietrykowski is the author of "You Are What You Eat: the Social
Economy of the 'Slow Food' Movement," published in the September
2004 issue of the Review of Social Economy.
The Slow Food movement was started in Italy in 1986 and now boasts 83,000
members worldwide with offices in Italy, Germany, Switzerland, France,
Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. According to the group's
Web site, it opposes the standardization of taste, and protects cultural
identities tied to food and gastronomic traditions.
Pietrykowski's article examines the role of the movement from the perspective
of a "social economist," looking at how the pleasures of eating
among friends and family can help develop "social and cultural capital."
"The Slow Food movement presents us with a way of thinking about
how consumption choices made by an individual form part of an interdependent
network within a social economy," Pietrykowski said in the article.
"Individuals gain identity through their consumption of food."
For slow food proponents, modern industrialization contains a dark side,
he notes. Technological advances now allow commodities to circulate at
a much greater speed over much greater distances. In grocery stores, this
means the virtual elimination of "seasonal" produce, and as
a result, food buying and consuming are no longer connected to natural
cycles of growth and harvest.
"In opposition to this trend, slow food philosophy focuses on the
pleasures of the table," Pietrykowski said. "The table represents
material culture-the culture of kitchens and food-and serves as a metaphor
for shared community."
The American chapter of the Slow Food movement describes itself as "an
educational organization dedicated to promoting stewardship of the land
and ecologically sound food production; reviving the kitchen and the table
as the centers of pleasure, culture, and community; and invigorating and
proliferating regional, seasonal culinary traditions."
In short, the group's work is aimed at "living a slower and more
harmonious rhythm of life."
"The goal is to disrupt the practices upon which fast-food culture
is constructed," according to Pietrykowski. "By embedding taste
education in a social movement aimed at creating local and regional networks
of mutually sustaining producers and consumers, the pleasures of the table
become a form of resistance to corporate, standardized mass-produced foods."
Food consumption patterns and cuisines are ways to establish class and
group identities, Pietrykowski said. "The desire to resist the dominant
culture of fast food, the quest for obscure local and regional foods and
cuisines that evoke a cultural heritage, these are all part of a way of
defining our place in the social environment."